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He just seems sorry and a little concerned.

I thank him again, more warmly, and he lets me go. Javier steps out onto the porch as I approach, and he’s juggling his car keys in his hand. Impatient to be gone, I think.

“The kids—” I begin.

“They’re fine,” he says, cutting me off. “Asleep, or at least, pretending to be.” He gives me a sharp, merciless look. “He kept you a long time.”

“It’s not me, Javier. I swear that.”

He murmurs something that sounds like sure but is hard to hear as Graham fires up his cruiser again in the background. The flare of taillights paints Javier’s face crimson. He looks tired, and he rubs his face like a man trying to scrub away the last few hours. I wonder if this will drive him away from being my friend, as surely as it has Sam Cade. As surely as it will Officer Graham, once he knows my past—not that he’s truly a friend. Just friendly.

Nobody stays, I should know that by now. Nobody but the kids, who don’t have a choice in the matter because they’re mired in this bog just as I am, up to the neck.

“Lady, what the hell are you into?” Javier asks me, but I don’t think he wants to know. Not really. “Look, I told you, I’m a reserve deputy. I like you, but if it comes down to it . . .”

“You’ll do your duty, just like you did tonight.” I nod. “I get it. I’m just surprised you agreed to help me leave town in the first place.”

“I thought you were running from an abusive ex. I’ve seen the look plenty of times. I didn’t know . . .”

“Didn’t know what?” I challenge him directly this time, staring right into his eyes. I can’t read him, but I don’t think he can read me, either. Not completely.

“That you were involved in something like this,” he says.

“I’m not involved!”

“Doesn’t look like that.”


“Let’s keep this real, Ms. Proctor. You get cleared, we’re cool. But until you are, let’s keep some distance, okay? And if you want my advice, you get the guns out of your house and turn them over to the range for safekeeping. We can hold them for you until this blows over, and I can swear out an affidavit for the PD. I just hate to think—”

“You hate to think about the cops coming and me having a small arsenal in here,” I say softly. “About the collateral damage that could cause.”

He nods slowly. There’s nothing aggressive about his body language, but there’s strength underlying it, a kind of calm, masculine strength that makes me want to believe in him. Trust him.

I don’t.

“I’ll hang on to my weapons until I see a court order telling me to surrender them,” I tell him. I don’t blink. If he thinks it’s aggressive, so be it. In this moment, in all moments now, I can’t afford to be seen as weak. Not for myself. I have two children in the house, and I’m responsible for their lives—lives that are never safe, never secure. I will do anything I must to defend them.

And I’m not giving up my weapons.

Javier shrugs. The gesture says he doesn’t care; the regretful slowness of it says he does. He doesn’t say good-bye, just turns and walks to the white van he’s driven up in, the one I came so, so close to escaping in. Before I can speak, he rolls down the window and pitches me the title for the Jeep. He doesn’t say the trade is off, but then, he hardly has to.

I watch him drive the big cargo van away, title in my hand, and then I turn and go back into the house.

It’s dark and quiet, and I silently double-check everything as I reset the alarm. The kids are used to the tones, and I don’t think it will wake them . . . but as I walk down to check on Connor, Lanny opens her door. We stare at each other in silence for a moment in the gloom, and then she gestures me in and shuts the door behind me.

My daughter curls up on her bed, knees up, arms circling them. I recognize the posture, though she might not. I remember finding her many times like this in the months after my release from jail after my trial. It’s defensive, though she makes it look natural enough.

“So,” she says. “They didn’t throw you back in.”

“I didn’t do anything, Lanny.”

“You didn’t last time, either,” she points out, which is flawlessly true. “I hate this. Connor’s scared to death, you know.”

“I know,” I say. I ease down on the bed, and she scoots her toes back so she isn’t touching me. It breaks my heart a little, but I’m eased a bit when she doesn’t flinch as I put my hand on her knee. “Sweetheart, I won’t lie to you. Your father knows where we are. I was planning to get us out of here, but—”

“But now there’s this dead girl, and the police know who we are, and we can’t go,” she says. Smart child. She doesn’t blink, but I see something glimmering like tears. “I should never have said anything about it. If I hadn’t—”

“Honey, no. You did the right thing, all right? Never think that.”

“If I hadn’t said anything we’d be gone by now,” she continues doggedly, right over me. “We’d be homeless again, but at least we’d be safe and he wouldn’t know where we are. Mom, if he knows—”

She stops talking, and the tears glisten harder, fatter, and break free to run down her cheeks. She doesn’t wipe them away. I’m not even sure she’s aware it’s happening.

“He’ll hurt you,” she says in a faint whisper, and she tilts her head forward to rest her forehead against her knees.

I move up next to her and hold her, my child, and she is a hard knot of muscle and bone and grief. She doesn’t relax against me. I tell her it’ll be all right, but I know she doesn’t believe me.

I finally leave her there, silent, closed into her protective ball, and go to check her brother. He seems asleep, but I don’t think he is. He looks pale, and there are dark, delicately lilac smudges under his eyes like the aftermath of bruises. He’s so tired.

So am I.

I close the door quietly, go to my own room, and fall into a vast, dreamless sleep with the silence of Stillhouse Lake pressed drowning-deep around me.

In the morning, there’s another girl floating dead in the lake.


I’m woken by a scream. I come bolt upright in bed, scrambling out even before I’m aware of being awake, stepping with the efficiency of a firefighter into my jeans and pulling a T-shirt on as I step into shoes heading to the door. I realize as I come out of my bedroom that it isn’t either of my kids screaming; their doors are flying back, too, Lanny looking bleary in her flannel robe, Connor still bare-chested in pajama pants with his hair sticking up on one side.

“Stay here,” I shout at them, racing to the front room. I sweep the curtains back and stare out at the lake.

The screaming is coming from a small rowboat drifting about twenty feet from the dock. There are two people inside it, an older man wearing a fisherman’s hat and utility vest, and a woman older than me with ash-blonde hair who’s recoiled against him. He’s holding her, and the boat’s violently rocking, as if she’s thrown herself backward so suddenly she almost swamped it.

I turn off the alarm and run outside, feet pounding on the gravel and then the wood of the dock, and I slow down when I see the body.

It’s come up from the darkness. This one is naked, floating on her stomach, and I can see long hair drifting like seaweed on the surface of the water.

The raw-chicken color of exposed muscles looks nauseating in the dim morning light, but it’s unmistakable. Someone has taken off most of the skin from her buttocks and the small of her back, and a broad stripe up to expose the alien white growth of her spine. But not all her skin. Not this time.

The woman suddenly stops screaming and lunges to lean over the side of the craft to vomit. The man hasn’t made a sound, and his move to steady the boat is automatic, the reaction of a man who’s been on the water most of his life but isn’t really here. Shock. His expression’s blank, and he stares straight ahead, trying to process what he’s seeing.